Zeke making things happen

Updated: January 10, 2004, 11:11 PM ET
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

Isiah Thomas has been telling us for days that it wouldn't be easy to resuscitate the cap-strapped New York Knicks. He said so again Sunday night on "NBA FastBreak," insisting that it probably wouldn't happen "in the immediate future."

Well, guess what?

In trademark Zeke style, he made it look as easy as his smile.

And made it happen the very next morning.

Thomas' Knicks makeover
Since replacing Scott Layden as team president on Dec. 22, Isiah Thomas has reshaped the Knicks' roster with the following whirlwind moves:

  • Dec. 24: Waived rookie center Slavko Vranes; activated rookie forward Mike Sweetney from injured list and placed forward Clarence Weatherspoon on IL.
  • Dec. 30: Traded Weatherspoon to Houston for guard Moochie Norris and center John Amaechi. Placed Michael Doleac and Sweetney on injured list.
  • Jan. 5: Traded Antonio McDyess, Howard Eisley, Charlie Ward, Maciej Lampe, the rights to Milos Vujanic and two first-round draft picks to Phoenix for Stephon Marbury, Penny Hardaway and Cezary Trybanski. Also, waived Amaechi.
  • Of course, Thomas had to give up a ton to make it look so easy, which is why the Phoenix Suns were so willing to collaborate on this Stephon Marbury blockbuster. Parting with Antonio McDyess' soon-to-expire contract and the rights to promising point guard Milos Vujanic and a couple future first-round picks means the Knicks now have 1) three maximum-salary players in their starting five (Starbury, Allan Houston and Keith Van Horn); 2) a fourth starter (Dikembe Mutombo) who just got bought out of a max deal; and 3) a max-salaried backup (Penny Hardaway). As one rival general manager noted Monday in the wake of Hurricane Isiah: "The Knicks gave up their entire future, so they better like this team they're getting an awful lot."

    But now that we're done with the disclaimers, consider what else Thomas did with the deal.

  • He made the Knicks matter again.

    With New York at risk to miss the playoffs for the third straight season, which hasn't happened since the 1985-1987 seasons, whenIsiah was a grinning point guard himself in Detroit, he has acquired a beloved City kid at one of the two most important positions on the floor. That will excite New Yorkers a lot more than having a new GM, and hopefully will liven up the best building in the league, which has been sadly numb for so long. It would also be nice if the move gets the Knicks to this postseason, since Thomas is undoubtedly praying that his Phoenix-bound 2004 draft pick falls out of the lottery.

  • By completing such an earth-shaking swap exactly two weeks into his reign as Knicks president, Thomas also made Scott Layden look pretty bad.

    Just when Layden's Utah-reared pet Van Horn is averaging 23 points over the past eight games in his best stretch as a Knick, Thomas comes in and pulls off a couple trades in a snap to completely rework the roster. It's certainly fair to assume that Thomas has a bit more freedom to be aggressive than Layden had, after Layden's string of ill-advised moves eroded management's confidence, but the speed of it all is still stunning. Layden, remember, was famous for making lopsided trade offers that angered the team on the other end of the phone. Such as offering the Raptors Kurt Thomas for Chris Bosh. Kurt is one of our faves, but c'mon.

    From the Suns' end, hard as it'll be to sell this one to their fans in the short term, it makes good sense. Where is Phoenix going in this season's Western Conference? Answer: Absolutely nowhere, after a bad start and so long as Amare Stoudemire is injured. Even though the Suns are giving up the best player in this trade, which is always risky, they're getting too many breaks cap-wise and too much potentially good young talent to refuse. Vujanic and those Knicks picks could turn out to be quite good. And you have to like McDyess' chances of getting healthy in the pressure-free desert as opposed to the life in the New York media crosshairs.

    Yet this is Isiah's moment. I, too, have to admit that I questioned the timing of his arrival, wondering if under-fire Knicks chairman James Dolan simply wanted a big name to deflect attention from the Nets' dominance of the greater NYC area ... and from Latrell Sprewell's return to MSG ... and from Jeff Van Gundy's forthcoming return Thursday.

    Now?

    It's clear that Isiah is running the Knicks to make a real attempt at restoring them to an acceptable level of prominence, at least in part because he's gutsy enough to try things that could backfire spectacularly. For example, I'm not quite sure how Marbury and Van Horn are going to get along any better as Knicks than they did as Nets, especially with the tabloids asking them about their relationship every day. Then again, I'm fairly certain that the Knicks-Nets "rivalry," which has seen New Jersey win 10 of the last 11 meetings, just got worlds more interesting now that Marbury and Jason Kidd are basically playing in the same city.

    "We have to be unconventional," Thomas said on Sunday night. "We have to beat the bushes and we have to get lucky."

    Which is never easy, granted ... but impossible if you don't take the big shots like Zeke does.

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer, ESPN.com
    • Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics
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